Daines Introduces Bill to Update Cultural Educational Program for Native Students

U.S. SENATE —Senator Steve Daines today introduced bipartisan legislation to update decades-old data the federal government uses to distribute funds to benefit Native American students.

The Johnson-O’Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act would make about 500,000 Native students eligible to access federal resources that would help address many of the students’ unique academic and cultural needs. 

Because of the lack of accurate data in how Native students are counted by the federal government, many Native students in public schools across the country eligible for federal cultural educational support through the Johnson O’Malley (JOM) program have lacked access to such resources. 

The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) last official count of Native students took place more than two decades ago, yet it still uses these numbers to determine which students get federal resources. Daines’ bipartisan legislation will require the federal government to quickly and accurately count all eligible Native students for the program, which would allow these students who currently aren’t being counted access to federal resources that will help them improve academically.

“We need to ensure that Native American students have the tools they need to learn,” Daines stated. “We can’t properly help tribal communities in a meaningful way without knowing who and how many people we are serving. Education is the bridge to a brighter future and I’m determined to work improve the educational systems in tribal communities.” 

During a time when Native students graduate from high school at a rate far lower than any other racial or ethnic demographic in the country, Daines is working to make sure that the cultural programs in public schools that have linked to boosting Native students’ morale, as well as academic performance and attendance, are readily available in classrooms.  

Despite the stark need for such programs, the last official count in 1995 by BIA, identified 271,884 Native students eligible for such resources. Since that time, the BIA has attempted to officially verify Native students eligible to the program without success, while the National Congress of American Indians recently indicated a large gap in access to these programs – with a marked increase of more than 500,000 Native young people nationwide that could be eligible for JOM cultural resources.

Daines’ bipartisan bill would call on the U.S. Department of the Interior to update its severely outdated count of Native students in a timely manner by using existing public information from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics to show underserved students who are potentially eligible under the program. This data is crucial for making sure Native students in public schools can access the cultural and educational investments critical to their success.